I will start this one by saying oooooooooh boy, this one really pressed my buttons.  Granted this was our second time climbing up and out of this 8,000 ft deep canyon, you’d think the whole experience was already signed, sealed and delivered. And it was in a way.  There was a bit of the up thing, then a whole lot of the up thing and when I thought I had just about had it, some more of the up thing, paired with similar grunting, pushing and swearing as I had the first trek out.

We began just after visiting (or pretty much coincidentally passing by) the Mission De Satevo, a great big gaudy renovated church positioned smack in the middle of this desert canyon.  Built in 1760, it was probably beautiful back in its day, however newly renovated and pink stucco-ed to the max, it agreeably looks like the smuggler’s bar on Tatuine in Star Trek.  It was here that we ran into an area guide who spoke English very well.  We hit him up for some directions and suggestions for ways out and he highly recommended we go back to Batopilas and take the well traveled road from there.  Then he let on to the fact there was a new road just across the river that climbs quicker faster and which would put us up on top in a matter of 6k.  The mention of a new road and both our eyes lit up.  Decidedly we’d be taking that one.  We thanked him for the info and rode off towards the bank of the river, only to find it too deep and moving too swiftly to get across.  Our next option was to backtrack a bit and cross the small swinging bridge we had seen earlier.

On our way we ran into some kids who took the pleasure in shouting “monies” “monies” “monies” “dinero” at us, not something we have encountered very often thankfully.  It was already hot and sunny and I was hurling my bike over mini boulders yet again and was not in the mood for the heckling.  So I decided to try something new and started shouting back at them in the same tone “monies” “monies” “dinero” “pesos” “yen” “baat”, any form of currency I could think of.  It worked like a charm.  My pestering them was followed only by some very confused looks and silence.

After crossing the bridge we started once again up the canyon, via the nueva carretera.  They were not kidding.  This was certainly a new one.  So new I don’t think anyone has really even attempted to drive it yet.  Downed trees, rock slides and chunks of missing road were a few of the obstacles we encountered over the next few days.  Again, the going was slow.  On the second day I took off my bike shoes and switched hiking shoes, resolving to get better traction as I pushed up the scree path.  The following day I completely removed my pedals for a few sections, having grown tired of jabbing myself in the calves.  It was once again a battle for the top.  After another three days, we finally began to wind up through more trees, leaving the site of the abyss behind.

And just when I thought my legs might completely commit mutiny, we turned a corner and started to go down….yes down!…through wooded apple orchards, filled with red and green apples, children and chickens.  I quickly hopped over the fence and shoved as many in my pockets as I could, craving some natural sugar after so many days of pasta and lentils.  The little kids watched me curiously from the edge of their yards, giggling and squeaking out shy “holas” when I  said hello.  All of a sudden I felt completely rejuvenated and remembered exactly why all of the fumbling, pushing and cursing under my breath is necessary sometimes.  Being out there and then returning from that place to appreciate what is around all the time.

It was another day and a half before we reached the town of Guachochi  and all the comforts it had to offer.  Here we splurged on a $20 motel room, made a mud room of the bathroom and kicked back comfortably while we watched the rain continue to pour down outside.

And up around this bend we have...a big pink church plopped right in the middle of a canyon...

Things were pretty desolate for the holy day of Domingo...

Each switch back is just as exciting as the last, believe me...

Clearly much more rain water traverses this road than the weight of either cars or trucks...

...and sometimes there is hardly a road at all...

.The camp saw comes in handy once again...

Who says biking isn't an upper body workout? (Photo: Kurt)...

One look around quickly rewards you for all your efforts...

...but don't forget to look down, you never know who you might miss...

A day in the canyon on a new road would not be complete without some pannier shuttling...

Camp where you wish, even in the middle of the road, no one will be by to tell you not to...

Having run out of fuel, all of our meals were cooked over fire...

Who can really complain when every turn of a corner reveals sites such as this...

Just what every off-road, calorie depleted, sweat shedding bike tourist wants...some Villa Viva. Armed with his really, really cheap tequila, this dude saw us as a great excuse to start an impromptu party in the middle of the road, blasting mariachi music from his truck and handing out snacks. Him and his compadre were sure to warn us of the "dangerous folk" in the area. The only danger we really considered was riding on roads these guys were driving...

And like that, after days of dirt, the road turns to pavement...

...and our epic canyon adventure distinctly ends here. Ten points to whomever can name that episode...

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There certainly is a “stuck in time” feel to the town of Batopilas.  Stretched out narrowly along the riverside, the town is an array of big stucco buildings, an impressive and popular el centro and many hotels and guest homes.  Being that it was the off-season, we did not get the regular tourist vibe that I am sure emanates through the streets during other times.  Interestingly enough, after Mexico City Batopilas was the next city to receive electricity in Mexico.

Besides us gringos, there were the very colorful and present Tarahumara, Raramuri and cowboys pacing the streets.  We arrived late in the day, and after inquiring about homestay prices, decided to ride back out of town a bit and camp at an abandoned hacienda we had seen on the way in.  It may have been the best spot in town too, because the porch we set up on looked down right onto the river.  As always, there was some curious onlookers who came to visit us in the morning and we learned the hacienda was still in slow process of being built.  It was hard to tell that from all of the broken glass and shattered wood furniture inside, but whenever the family does start to move in, they are going to have the best spot in town.

Welfare checks were handed out that day and the lines for the Tienda Communitaria (Government subsidized grocery stores, different from the regular tiendas, supers, mini supers, or abborotes) and the lines were out the door, with people picking up the food necessities, as well as new sandals, Tupperware and I saw one man with a brand new calculator.

We spent most of the day on the search for the cheapest food we could find.  Without a bank in town and with no one accepting any form of credit, we had 200 pesos to our names.  Unsure of how long it would take us to get back out of the canyon again and to a town sizeable enough for a bank, we stocked up on the usual staples of rice, pancakes, beans, pasta, potatoes and my new favorite mood brightener…peanuts.  We leisurely left after hanging out in the plaza for a while, watching another impending thunderstorm and guessing its direction.

Our priceless accommodations. Why pay to stay when there are always abandoned places just waiting for you to warm...

A bit of the riverside sprawl...

Homes on the main street...

How mechanics do it on the banks of Batopilas...

The Tarahumara women on line to pick up their subsidies...

Inside the walls of the fortified and very official,though crumbling, Hacienda. This was quite the spot back in its day...

...but now it's just beautifully overgrown and haunting...

To begin, we can confirm that indeed there is a road that goes from Urique to Batopilas…almost completely.  Our overly optimistic 2010 map denotes it is there, we will just tell you that the journey will involve some grunting, pushing, pulling, heeing, hawing, scurrying, scampering, slipping, sliding, shuttling and…maybe some riding.  Here’s a brief outline of the experience:

Day 1- Leave late afternoon and ride enchantingly down alongside the river into Guapalina where you will ford a river quite deep and swift after discovering the swinging bridge you were told about is not actually there.

Day 2- Rise early and start the half riding/half pushing day.   Break to rest arms.  Push more.  Break to rest legs.  Push again.  Hop on your bike, but don’t clip in because falling off while struggling to climb a steep grade covered in loose scree is a likely scenario.  By nightfall you reach what you think is the top, and gleefully begin to look for camping.  Luckily run into a young cowboy who, when answering his “a donde va” with Batopilas, instructs you that the road to Batopilas is back the way we had just come.  Flop down on your sleeping pad and decide to figure it out in the morning.

Day 3- Ride back in the direction you just clawed your way out of.  View what looks to be some sort of end to a road about 1000 feet above, with only a faint outlines of smattering of goat trails in between where you stand and said road end.  Investigate the situation,  which reveals that indeed the road you need is quite a ways up there and even walking along those trails with nothing on your back or in your arms proves to be an unbalanced endeavor given the very narrow and ever crumbling path.  Make some tea, eat some noodles, procrastinate a bit.  Bite the bullet and start the 3 hour endeavor of shuttling the bikes and all the panniers up these goat tracks over the course of multiple trips.  Get to the top, enjoy a sweet descent for a bit, before getting caught in torrential downpour.  Rest your tired muscles wondering what the next day will bring.

Day 4- Spend a morning pushing and riding along several ridges, with no real view of the deep canyon you are anticipating to be seen.  (Highlight of my day (and maybe in the top 5 of my life thus far): while riding through a little town (two houses) a family stopped to ask where we were coming from.  When they found out we’d come from Urique (which feels like another world at this point, kind of like you stepped through the looking-glass when shuttling up and over that mountain) the elderly lady in the bunch steps forward and gave me the biggest toothless smile I’d ever seen, while reaching out and grabbing my hand to shake it, continuously shaking her head and smiling in disbelief.)

Later on, feeling like a true sucker and glutton for punishment, you descend yet again into the second deepest part of the deepest canyon in North America, with another 6k spent riding alongside the river, plopping you in the town of Batopilas.

So in the end, to confirm…you can get a loaded touring bike from Urique to Batopilas.  If you are reading this and planning to go in that direction, they may even have the road completed by now.  Who knows.  Either way it is, as always, well worth the effort.

Well, I just think that is a great name for a restaurant!...

After witnessing my quick photo snap of the restaurant across the street, these enthusiastic kids insisted they get in on the action...

With no bridge to be found, we wade across...

...and begin the push up the loose and crumbly road...

Laying on the ground and photographing the small details is a great way to take a break...

Kurt waiting for me at the top after day 1. Based on the size of that peanut shell pile, it took me a bit longer to get up there...

But of course. Up there is the road we need to continue on...

Pannier removal...

One of the many goat track shuttles...

Narrow, narrow paths to traverse...

The grand finale at the top. After this section we were free to put our panniers back on and continue the riding/pushing on some fairly level dirt...

...but the road still wasn't easy-going...

...but it did have its blissful sections, including these orchards...

Prickly pear cacti in bloom, a sure sign we were again dropping in elevation...

Sometimes its hard for me to enjoy the surrounding scenery, as I have to keep my eyes glued to the road and constantly ready to navigate through loose rock...

The grandness of it all...

The happy ending...

Knuckling down with hands full of brakes, we descended the 14k down into Urique, dropping 2000 ft in one swift motion.  My hands cramped from braking so much as I realized the canyon was going to make even descending hard work.  When I reached the bottom, Kurt was already being put to work helping some local kids fix their bmx bike, a task that proved way more trouble than it was worth.  More on that later…

We found our way to Entres Amigos, an eco-friendly hostal of sorts, which offers both private rooms and dorm style rooms, as well as camping.  We chose the latter of the three naturally and paid the 90 pesos, a pretty steep price for camping (normally free to us).  It does however come with the privilege of picking anything from the grounds we felt fit to eat, as well as use of the big communal kitchen on site.  And let me tell you…the grounds we’re ripe in all sorts of ways….so many mangoes were falling off the trees you could listen to them drop onto the corrugated tin roofs every few minutes.  In addition to the mangoes, there were limes, lemons, grapefruit, an abundance or basil, some random kale and an assortment of various things I had never seen before but continuously asked the grounds keeper Tomas “what is this for?” and “can I eat this?”  We spent the afternoon exploring downtown, drinking some highly anticipated cold cervezas and plundering the local market for things to create our highly thought out dinner.  Then we went to town in the kitchen, hand chopping a great big bowl of salsa, making pesto for pasta, baking a great big chocolate cake and squeezing fresh grapefruit juice, all intermixed with sporadic swims in the very slimy but very refreshing swimming pool.  It was agreeably, if not over, 100 degrees in Urique and even sitting completely still would find you drenched in sweat.  It felt like a few back to back Bikram yoga classes.  We spent a good amount of time with Luis too, the summer caretaker, who normally resides in Batopilas where he runs an art studio and sells his paintings in various forms.

Urique, like many of the canyon towns, is mostly known for its fairly thriving marijuana cultivation.  Unfortunately for the local growers, the government has taken more and more of an interest in the budding area and the daily presence of helicopters overhead made for some wary town folk.  There was definitely a semi nervous energy in the air.

With our bellies full and a day of rested legs, we cobbled together our plans of how to get to Batopilas.  After talking with quite a few people and scouring the internet for information (they do have WiFi there), we consulted a local as to if there really was a road that went directly from Urique to Batopilas, as it indicated on our 2010 Guia Roji map.  It was confirmed that indeed there was a road that went all the way through, just 3 kilometers were not finished yet, but Tomas assured us we would be fine on our bikes.  With this information and a hand drawn map listing some key towns to ask for along the way we set off late in the afternoon heading for Batopilas.

The dizzying, squiggly worm of a descent down to Urique (Photo: Kurt)...

Hello desert cacti and warmer temperatures...

Up around the canyon bend...

This bmx was in need of some serious work and Kurt graciously offered up all the help he could on the spot...

The entrance for Entre Amigos, a beautifully crafted and cared for eco grounds...

These flowers are everywhere in the canyon and remind me of popsicles we used to eat as kids...

With ample space, sun, care and love, things down here grow overwhelmingly ripe...

The cake! Double layered chocolate with an inventive icing of granulate sugar, butter and... ground-up cereal. No powdered sugar could be found so some cereal was the best thing I could come up with to tone it down a bit. It was super sweet to say the least, but went great as a slice in a bowl of milk...

Laborious as it is, a glass of fresh squeezed juice can not be beat...

The Urique police station. We regret to post that the kids we helped with the bike came by later and swiped a few articles of Kurt's, things they had been completely enthralled with upon first laying eyes on. All of the important things were found and returned after a loooooong morning of some interrogating and searching. Unfortunately, some not as important items are quite possibly still floating down the Urique river...

Historic center of Urique. The town has been in existence since the 1600's, though the road to it was only built in the 1970's...

The local tortilleria...

Boiling some grapefruit seeds in hopes of extracting some oil to gulp down. One of the most longed after of the stolen articles is a bottle of GSE (Grapefruit Seed Extract) we had, the cure-all Kurt and I were using to kill any bad bacteria that started fiestas in our stomachs. This process did the trick, but we are continuously on the hunt to find a replacement bottle in Mexico...

Having returned from our backtracking side trip to Basaseachi Falls, we were most excited to continue heading South, into the plus, toward BarrancaDel Cobre.  After days and days of rain, our stink bags needed some serious airing out and we spent some solid morning hours removing everything from our bags and letting the sun work its magic into all the moldy corners.  We made it to Divisadero later on that afternoon just as the rain started to fall again.  Lured by the description of gorditas in our guide-book, we landed smack in the middle of a heavy tourist stop.  As this is the first place you can actually get a good glimpse down into the canyon, in addition to being a stop along the tracks, the Tarahumara and their children have set up an array of stalls to peddle their various crafts, including jewelry, handmade guitars and cutlery, as well as some printed on mugs and calendars to remind you of your visit to the largest canyon in North America.

By the time we had finished our gordita sampling and pried our bodies away from the warmth of the oil drum stoves it was fairly late in the day.  The day’s rain and cloud situation was gearing up for a fantastic sunset so I enthusiastically put in my two cents about camping right on the rim.  It was certainly not hard to convince Kurt that waking up to a cup of coffee right on the rim would be a fantastic way to start the next day.  So we paced down along the cobblestone path, feeling like we were in some life-sized version of candy land, peering over into the abyss that was now graced with not one, but three sunset rainbows.  It was a breathtaking way to end the day.

Despite being up quite late that night completely sucked into Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses, I was able to rouse myself at first light and amble down to the edge to watch the sun peek out and set upon a new day in the canyon.  It was here that I really first got a glimpse of the glowing copper-colored walls that give the canyon its name.  Completely in awe, I sat for a good while thinking happily on other canyon experiences in my life and how good it felt to be next to another one.  The perspective they grant is unmatched.  Tossing a rock with no landing sound to be heard or watching a helicopter disappear amongst the many folds lets you know just how big you really are in the grand scheme of things.

Thinking we had but a few miles and a swift descent down into Urique, we spent the morning on the rim, roasting blue corn tortillas for breakfast and having conversations that included the words “wow, wow, wow” over and over.  Setting off, we quickly came upon the town of San Rafael, where the evidence of the greenery business was dully noted in all of the fancy big trucks we kept passing.  And then it began….a rolling hill here, a switch back of two there.  Up up up we went.  Seemingly all day.  We had begun our ascent down into the deepest side canyon, go figure.  Spoilage alert….we missed an unmarked turn, sending us out and around and up over ridge after ridge.  It was not until the next morning that our mistake was confirmed.  The signs had been pretty clear…riding uphill that whole previous day, camping next to a rather shallow valley where we had expected a deep canyon and the fact I heard the faint whistle of trains all night, when both of us knew full well there were no trains that ran down into Urique.  We reaffirmed our gut notions the next morning, setting our eyes on the telltale sign that read Urique…54 km.  So it was another full day of climbing, before finally setting our eyes down into what looked to be a pretty official deep deep deep canyon.  We hunkered down that evening again in torrential rain, thunder and lightning and slept well knowing the dizzying descent that finally awaited us in the morning.

Sun, glorious sun...

The constant battle against the mold monster...

Tarahumara masks for sale...

Gorditas, excellent fuel for a hungry cyclist. Here we got to choose between various tortillas, stuffings (including vegetable and meat medleys) and beans or cheese...

Nevermind the gigantic canyon to the right, look at this extra long bike over here...

The first glimpse of sun hitting the canyon wall in the morning. You can see one of the reasons it is referred to as Copper Canyon...

Not a bad spot to wake up in the morning...

...or have that first cup of tea...

The beautiful inside of a shrine along the way...

...which was worked into the natural beauty already in place...

Sierra Madre riding...

The town of Bahuichivo, which is actually outside the Barranca Del Cobre region. This was our first false Urique sighting...

The huge plus side to wrong turns, excellent swim spots such as this one...

This man gave us the go ahead to hop the fence and plunge into those crystal clear waters, as it was on his property...

By the end of day two we had reached the spot where we wanted to be. Below us the crevice leading into Urique, the deepest part of Barranca Del Cobre. The town seen in the photo is actually Guapalina, as Urique can not be seen until continuing around the bend...

These last couple of weeks have been nothing short of utterly epic.  Kurt and I have been chewed up and spat out by the grander of canyons, Barranca Del Cobre.  Having emerged on the other side, I can honestly say it was one of the most breathtaking and humbling experiences I have partaken in in my life thus far.  Until I get to Zacatecas and can give you a full update, here are a few photos to hold you over…

It is known that for every 1,000 feet of elevation loss, the temperature rises 3.6 degrees.  We certainly have started to feel this fact as we continue on south.  With every twist and turn, Mexico has begun to open itself up right before our eyes, revealing lush valley after lush valley.  We traveled through the towns of Guerro and Guadalupe, stopping to camp by Presa Abraham Gonzalez, a rather large lake calling to us from the road.  Excited to get in a late afternoon swim, we bumped down the dirt road towards the beckoning water.  Very sadly though, upon reaching the lake, we were confronted with quite a scene.  There were ambulances parked close to the water and a few boats out dragging nets, evidently looking for a body.  Our mood sorely dampened, we respectfully crept around the other side of a lake and offered our silent prayers for the family involved in such a terrible ordeal.

The next day brought more glaring sun and flat road heading towards San Juanito.   The map we have showed this road as the alternative to get to Creel (our next destination).  It was paved the whole way and traveled mainly by farmers and locals, so we did not have to contend with too many cars.  I took advantage of some Chilequiles on a menu in San Juanito and found it tortilla heavy and red sauce smothered.  Delicious!

Now, for the past two days we’ve been enjoying a little break and what the town of Creel has to offer.  We got hooked up with a courtyard camp experience for 50 pesos each, partied down with some locals and a gang of motorcyclists and explored the bits of town we’ve wanted to.  The Tarahuma Mountains line this area, and the natives dress quite traditionally and very colorfully.  A common occurrence we enjoy is the train that rumbles through several times a day heading to or from Copper Canyon.  The freight is usually full of riders which, as you can imagine, sends Kurt out into the street to catch a glimpse of how his favorite activity is done in Mexico.

We were originally planning to head to Copper Canyon from here, but the lure of the Basaseachi Falls is pulling us ever so strongly towards them.  We’ve decided to take the next few days to ride to them, though it means back tracking a bit on some roads we’ve already traveled on.

Sunset leaving Madera...

Some early morning delicate tent magic...

Everything gets thrown into tortillas these days. A package of 10 can be purchased at the Tortilleria for about 10 pesos, or a little more than $1 US...

"Pinole! Pinole! Pinole! Give you power!" says Tony (usually said while smacking one's shoulder.) Kurt and I were sure to pick up a bag before leaving Nueve Casas Grandes and we have been mixing it in our oatmeal and pancakes in the morning...

A roadside observer...

The alluring lake we camped next to for the evening...

One of the many ups and downs of the day...

A view from just one of the canyons we road through, and its tiny village nestled in the valley...

A roadside market. These usually contain the "essentials", such as spices, sodas, snacks, eggs, and sometimes pastries...

Kurt's semi-custom rig. More on this beast later...

Chilequiles, San Juanito style...

He camoflaged best he could, but then politely posed for this photo when I explained how good looking I thought he was...

Outside the shrine...

Inside the shrine...

Mangus, the guesthouse pooch, keeping a good eye on things...

Quite a hilarious translation...

Another classic...

The Ferrocarril Chihuahua Pacifico, or Copper Canyon Railroad, tracks which run through the center of town...

The turista train. Quite a popular way for many to view the canyon, as the tracks are layed out impressively throughout many of its twists and turns, making it one of the "Wonders of Engineering"...

It was hard to resist these big juicy grapes. Most of our snacks and meals on the road consist of simple grains that stay well and are easy to carry and cook. Fresh anything is always a treat...

The Renegados, giving tattoos up on the porch. They later had us sit down for a huge feast with them...